I'm going to look at three points from this passage. The first point is this,
Break with the past
We're called to be different. He (Paul) says, do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, or as JB Phillips translate it, don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mould.
When he says the world, he's talking about the world that is hostile to God. Sometimes this is a challenge because there's a pressure to conform. You may feel pressure to conform in different areas of life, maybe at home, or at work, or in your social life. At work, maybe the pressure is to be sceptical of faith or to lie to make things look better than they are. What are some of the pressures that you find in life? Why not write them in the comments?
Now apparently, there was a young police officer who was doing his final exams at Hendon police college. The first three questions in the paper were relatively easy. And then he got to question four. Question four went like this, you're on patrol in outer London when a gas explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby Street. On investigation, you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there's an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van, there's a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants, a man and a woman are injured. You recognise the woman as the wife of your divisional inspector who is present away in the United States. A passing motorist stops to offer assistance, and you realise he's a man who's wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly, another man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into the adjacent canal by the explosion and he cannot swim. Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few action, in a few words, what actions you would take. The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote, I'll take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.
The temptation for people who've decided to become a Christ follower is to take off our Christian uniform, if you like, and to mingle with the crowd, just to do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes that seems so much easier but we're called to be distinctive. And we're called to be more like a chrysalis than a chameleon. A chrysalis turns into a beautiful butterfly. A chameleon changes colour, according to the background it's on.
Now, we're called to be different, but we're not called to be weird. Maybe, you know, some weird Christians. You know, we're not called to wear weird clothes or speak in a weird language. In fact, we're called to fulfil our potential, to be the version of ourselves that God has created us to be.
Jesus was the person who most fully achieved this, he was the most fully integrated human being ever. So Paul says, break with the past and then make a new start, be transformed. Let God transform you inwardly by a complete change as one translation puts it.
I don't know about you but sometimes I think we have a fear of change. And we talked a little bit about that a few weeks ago. Maybe a friend of yours has decided to follow Jesus and you've seen positive changes and you think, wow, their life is really attractive. But at the same time you think, well, I'm not sure if I, if I want to do that. What would it mean to make that change? God's not going to ask us to leave behind stuff that is good. God loves us, He wants the best for our lives. He only asks us to leave behind the rubbish in our lives.
Years ago, I worked as an occupational therapist in the local hospital. In case you don't know what that is, an occupational therapist is someone who helps people to have as much independence as possible after accidents or physical or mental illness or learning difficulties. That might involve teaching people new ways of doing things or providing practice to increase strength and ability, or providing equipment or adaptations to the home. Now I remember one patient I saw and she was a homeless lady, someone who had come in off the street. And I can't remember why she ended up in hospital. But I do remember her being offered a lot of support to get her off the street and to start a new life in a, in a proper home. Now, I don't remember most of my patients, but I remember her. And the reason I remember her is because she refused the help. And I remember thinking she must be a bit crazy to turn that down. She wanted to go back on the street, because that's what she knew. And that gave her a kind of sense of security in a way. She couldn't move to a new and better life, because she didn't want to give up the old one. Jesus offers life in all its fullness, and people say but I don't want to leave behind basically the rubbish in their lives, leaving what we know can feel very unsettling and a bit scary. But unless we leave behind the rubbish, we can't enjoy all the treasures that God has for us. Life in all its fullness doesn't mean a life free from problems. And it doesn't mean that everything goes the way we want it to. Far from it. But it is a great life. I
n Romans 12, Paul sets out some of the treasures that God has for us. Firstly, there's sincere love. What is sincere love? Well, actually, the word he uses here is one that I can't really pronounce. So hopefully it's appeared on the screen. It means unhip, unhypocritical. An upper critos, excuse my pronunciation, was the mask they put on in a Greek play. And in life, we can put on masks. If we're not comfortable with who we are, or don't feel like we fit in certain situations, we can put on a mask and say, well, this is who I want to be. But the trouble with this is, nobody ever sees us. They just see the mask. And then when two people who've got these masks are meeting, that's all it is. It's a meeting of masks. It's all about image but not reality.
When you know God loves you as you are, it can still be difficult, but it is easier to drop the mask and be yourself. You can be authentic, you can be real. That's what it means to be a human being, being loved by God. That's what God wants for our lives. And when that happens, you get a real connection happening. We often think that we'll impress people by our strength, but actually, it's often through our vulnerabilities that we connect. And when we drop the mask, we get these amazing relationships beginning to form.
And then Paul goes on to say that another another treasure, is enthusiasm in our relationship with God. He writes, never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour serving the Lord. In other words, don't just have a one off experience of God. This is meant to last for a lifetime.
Some people will have these like really dramatic and amazing experiences of God and decide to follow him because of that. And others don't have these dramatic experiences, but decide to follow him because they're convinced of the truth of his existence and love. Do you know what? It doesn't matter which of those categories you're in. What matters is the long term. Where are you going to be in your relationship with God in 10 years time? That's what matters, not your initial experience.
It's a bit like a honeymoon in a marriage. You can have a great honeymoon, but you might have a terrible marriage. Or you can have a terrible honeymoon and you might have a great marriage. I often seem to read about celebrities who have these amazing lavish wedding ceremonies and go to the best honeymoon destinations, only to have their marriage fall apart in a few years, or even a few months or weeks. My grandparents got married just as the Second World War was about to end. They wore borrowed clothes for their wedding and ate ration food. But their marriage lasted for over 70 years until my granddad died. Our relationship with God is meant to be like an amazing marriage where it gets better and better with time. That's what matters, the long term. And God loves this. You know he wants the best for us.
Broken relationships cause so much damage and all around us in society we see broken hearts or maybe your hearts broken right now. There are people whose lives are hurt and messed up and God doesn't want that, he loves us. He doesn't want anyone to get hurt. You know Paul doesn't condemn us for our failings in his writings. Actually the society he was writing to was very immoral. And there's no sense of condemnation here at all. He just says, don't do this any longer. He doesn't say you are terrible people for doing this in the past, he says, don't conform any longer to the pattern of this world. God forgives us. We can always make a new start. And today can be a new start for you if you want it.
And then, in here, you see some other beautiful things about love. Jesus teaching about love is so radical in a good way. He says, love your enemy. And Paul goes on to expound this by saying, don't take revenge, bless those who curse you. Love your enemies, if they're hungry, feed them, if they're thirsty, give them something to drink. To be a Christian is really radical. It's not just, oh, I'm going to be a bit nicer. This is all about amazing love, love for God, love for other people, even love for our enemies. These are some of the treasures which God has in store when we leave behind the rubbish.
The second thing I want to highlight from the passage that we read is this,
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice
That means everything that we have, including our time. Our time is our most valuable possession. We can get more money, but we can't get more time. I heard of an advert that was placed in an East African newspaper. And this is really a genuine advert. It was a farmer, a Kenyan farmer who was looking for a wife. And he advertised in the personal columns of the East African standard. And this is the advert he put in,
Farmer seeks lady with tractor, with view to companionship and possible marriage. Please send picture of tractor.
It's very easy to get our priorities wrong. But when we experience God's love and a relationship with him, our priorities change.
I would encourage you and I encourage myself, to put God first, make a commitment today, to say every day I'm going to spend a few minutes praying and reading the Bible and connecting with God.
Praying is just talking to God and listening to him. We talked about that a few weeks ago. You know, that will transform our relationship with God because all relationships are based on communication.
Then we also need other people.
We can't do this on our own. Make meeting up with other people who want to follow God a priority. I make CROWD church and our midweek group a priority every week because I need other people to encourage me in my faith, and they need me. It's a time to come together with a group of amazing people to worship God, discuss the Bible and pray for one another. This is how we keep our relationship with God and prioritise it.
How about ambitions?
To present ourself as a living sacrifice means to give God our ambitions. Should a Christian be ambitious? Jesus' answer is yes, he commands us to be ambitious. He says, seek first the kingdom of God and all the other stuff that you seek after will be yours. But what he's saying is, don't make the secondary things your primary ambition. I mean, supposing you make loads of money, and you get to Heaven, and you say to God, here I am. And God says, well, what have you done with your life? Well, I've made loads of money. And God says, oh, wow, that's going to be so useful here. We can play Monopoly with that. Do you get my point? Other people might make their ambition to be top of their profession. For example, someone might say, I want to be governor of the Bank of England. So you get to heaven, God says, what did you do with your life? You say, well, I was the governor of the Bank of England. And God says, oh, well, we haven't had one of those before. What point am I trying to make? They're great as secondary ambitions if your primary ambition is the kingdom of God. If you say I want to make lots of money, because I know that through the money, I can help eradicate disease or I can help the poor, I can make a difference in this world. Brilliant. Brilliant ambition. How about if you want to be governor of the Bank of England because that's such a prominent position in our society. That's a place where you can make a difference in people's lives, a difference in society and difference in God's kingdom? Brilliant ambition. Go for it. But don't make it your primary ambition. Money is such a blessing, or it can be. We can do so much good with money. I'd encourage you to be the most generous giver. It's so liberating. Jesus said it's much more blessed to give than to receive. If you want to be really blessed, give lots. Become the most generous person, you know.
And then our ears
What do we listen to? Do we just listen to rubbish, to gossip or stuff like that? Or do we listen to stuff that actually builds us up and encourages us?
We can use our eyes to look in lust and jealousy or we can use them to look at people and say, that's a person who God loves and I'm going to love that person. I want to bring blessing to that person.
You know, the Bible says the tongue is so powerful. It's small, but it's really powerful. With this little thing, we can curse someone, we can wreck someone's day, we can actually wreck someone's life with our tongue but we can also bless people. Let's be determined to use our tongues to build people up. Do you realise with just a few words, you can encourage someone and make a huge difference to that person's day.
Encouragement is like verbal sunshine. I love that phrase. It doesn't cost anything, but it warms people's hearts, it changes lives. And we can bring blessing every single day to people's lives with this little instrument.
Do we use them to take or to serve? Our sexuality. For our own gratification or for the good and pleasure of our marriage partner? Paul says present your bodies as a living sacrifice. The extraordinary paradox is this. We think that if we do that, we'll lose our freedom, but actually, it's the way to find our freedom. St. Augustine says this, his serving God, is perfect freedom. So he says, present your bodies as a living sacrifice. That means that there'll be a cost, there's a cost in sacrifice. Jesus didn't come to make our life easy. He came to make it great. So there'll be lots of challenges.
So firstly, we turn away from the rubbish in our lives and secondly, we make God and His kingdom our main priority.
That brings us on to the third point. I'll start with a story. I heard of a wealthy English Baron called Baron Fitzgerald, who had only one son. Now this son tragically died very young. The Baron was devastated. He said, What am I going to do now? So he decided to invest his life in paintings and went around the world collecting really valuable paintings by the masters. And when he died, his will called for there to be an auction. And at this auction, people from all over the world came to bid on the paintings because they were so valuable. But he laid down in his will, very careful instructions about what was to happen. And he said,
At the auction, the first painting that I want to be sold, is the painting entitled 'my beloved son'.
And this was a painting that was done way before he got interested in art. Wasn't particularly well done, it wasn't really of any value except for sentimental value. In fact, only one person bid on it, someone who'd worked for the family, and who knew the son and who loved the son. He bid for it and he got it for a very small sum. And then the second clause in the will said this,
Whoever buys 'my son' gets everything. The auction is over.
And that's what Paul is saying, whoever buys. God says, whoever has my son has everything. If God was prepared to give his only son for us, because He loves us so much, will he not give us everything else as well? And Paul says, He wants you to present your body as a living sacrifice so that you can prove what God's will is your life. God's will for your life is good. That is to say, God has good things for you to do in life and it's pleasing, it will please you, and it's perfect. That's to say, you can't do better than God.
There's no point saying, well, I can do it without God. We're not meant to do it without God. This is meant to be a relationship, a partnership. We go through life with him. And that's what makes it so exciting. You have great things ahead of you in your life. God loves you. He wants to pour His love into your heart by the Holy Spirit. He wants to give you this love for other people, for the world. Love for your enemy. That's what the Holy Spirit does. He gives us His love. And He has a great purpose for your life that is good, it's pleasing, it's perfect. And he wants you to make a difference with your life.
So firstly, let's turn away from the rubbish in our lives. Secondly, let's make God and His kingdom our main priority. And thirdly, let's allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into living His way because it's the best way to live.